Edited by Cephas N. Omenyo & Eric B. Anum

These Studies are published by the Foundation for Studies in World Christianity and Interreligious Relations in Collarboration with the Nijmegen Institute for Mission Studies and the Chair of World Christianity and Interreligious Relations at Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands.

Date Added to the Noyam Research Archive
Wednesday, 4th November, 2020


‘All Things to All People’: A Festschrift in Honour of John Samuel Pobee

Cephas N. Omenyo & Eric B. Anum

Pobee’s diversity

The idea of doing a Festschrift for J.S. Pobee came out of a discussion we had on the contribution of African theologians towards the development of religious disciplines on the continent. J.S. Pobee has mentored and supported many in their academic careers. Consequently, we decided to do our homework as to the possibility of doing something for such a great African who has done so much in his areas of study and involvement with so many people in so many respects. Our search led to our realization that there are so many people who would like to contribute towards such a work in honour of Pobee. The only complexity was that he is a man of many parts so it was difficult to limit the work to just one discipline or one area of study.

Pobee, for instance, is well known in biblical studies as a New Testament scholar from his Cambridge days as a post-graduate student. However, he is also credited with the writing of Church history books like Politics and Religion in Ghana, which he did in 1977. He also worked as a theologian writing on Towards an African Theology. He also taught these courses as well at the University of Ghana Legon. He not only contributed numerous articles on Ecumenism but actually worked with the World Council of Churches at its Programme for Ecumenical and Theological Education (PETE) unit and this saw him being referred to by many as ‘theologian in residence’ at the WCC in Geneva during his period of study in that area. He also had very keen involvement in promoting theological education by his commitment not only in finding funds for students but also in organising conferences and workshops to build up capacity for both residential and non-residential theological education programs. One distinctive outcome of most of his workshop and conferences was to get the conference proceedings published. Theological Education by extension saw a lot of boost during his tenure of office at the WCC as program coordinator of the PETE unit then. He also made sure that theological institutions were provided with both a platform and resources to hold regional conferences during his stint with the PETE program with the WCC. This is where Conferences of African Theological Institutions (CATI) and its regional counterparts were assisted to bring their members together for various programs. It is also worth mentioning his involvement in missions. He was also involved with the International Association of Missions (IAMS) and served as its President and has now been honoured as a life member. In keeping with Prof Pobee’s scholarly and ecclesiastical engagements, the essays in this festschrift reflect not only the African context but also the global ecumenical realm.

He is also a through and through Church person. This is in his famous statement that ‘theology is conceived in the womb of the Church’. He participated actively in both the worldwide Anglican Communion as well as that of Ghana. We still have very fond memories of Pobee leading devotions during ecumenical meetings which made great spiritual impact on us and many others. He has remained connected to the Church all through the decades that he worked as a scholar either with the University or with the ecumenical bodies. Until recently, he served as the Provost at the Holy Spirit Cathedral during the tenure of office of Archbishop Justice Akrofi of the Anglican Church of Ghana.

Presently as professor emeritus at the University of Ghana, Department for the Study of Religions, he has been nicknamed ‘living ancestor’ which is an indication of his contribution being put in the context among others as part of heritage of the Department. It came as no surprise when the University of Ghana honoured him with an honorary doctorate, together with two other scholars for his outstanding contribution to scholarship, as part of the University’s 65th anniversary celebration in 2013.

So in putting together a book in honour of such a person, one cannot but do justice to the diversity of his involvements by collecting the wide variety of articles from the different fields that he has been involved in. Indeed we cannot give a better title to such a work than Trajectories in Religion in Africa. Indeed Pobee was in this respect all things to all people being All Things to All People looking at the commitment and diligence with which Pobee worked and continues to work in all these areas that have been mentioned above. There are many others but we believe they all fit into one or the other of the divisions that we have given to the articles.

Indeed Pobee in his life has shown what it means to be able to contribute effectively to the development of various aspects of one’s area of study as well as one’s vocation in the non-academic area and make enormous impact in both areas in diverse ways. In sum, we see Pobee making a strong statement in his life and works that is possible to work at the cutting edge of the intersection between biblical studies and theology, church and society, denominational communion and ecumenism, mission and history.

The diversity of this volume

This work contains articles that cannot be unified and put under a single theme or field of study. This posed a little difficulty in the initial stages in finding a publisher for the work since most publishers we contacted were interested in having a volume that can be clearly identified with a particular areas, like Church history, missions, theology, ecumenism etc. However, none of the areas singularly fully captures Pobee’s life and works and that his career together conveys the message of who he really is. So that explain the various sections of the work which we have and the title of the work itself.

The first section for the work is devoted to ecumenism, mission, and theological education. Here, the work of Werner, focused on the World Council of Churches’ contribution to ecumenical theological education, particularly discussing the challenges that the various units of WCC faced in making available theological training to Churches and ecumenical bodies that they were related to. The article raises questions about the leadership development in the Church in contemporary times.

Platvoet’s article o ‘A battel won or lost’ reflects what he terms the ‘ecumenical experiment in academic theology made between 1970 to 1975 to provide theological and ministerial training for future ministers and priest for Protestants and Roman Catholic Churches respectively together at Utrecht University. The significance of Platvoet’s contribution lies also in the fact that Dutch universities over the years have trained students from multi-cultural contexts, particularly Africa and Asia. Furthermore, graduands of the Dutch theological institutions end up serving in cross-cultural contexts, an experience he himself has n Africa.

Ross focuses on issues related to Edinburgh 1910 and the preparation of the Scottish Churches on whose land this memorable Conference took place that re-defined and re-positioned world mission for decades to come. Ross is particularly interested in the way forward in forging ahead in the mission thrust of the world Church as one looks at a whole century of global mission in the 21st century.

Jongeneel discusses the different positions taken by scholars regarding the meaning and the use of the terms ‘Christendom’, ‘Christianity’, and ‘Christianization’. Continental Europeans (especially) Germans and Dutch) do not know or acknowledge the difference between ‘Christendom’ and ‘Christianity’. Consequently they ascribe a positive sense to the latter term, whereas most Anglo-Saxon authors opt for a more or less negative connotation to term, ’Christendom’, over against the positively interpreted term ‘Christianity’. The present article challenges the Anglo- Saxon view, because it views both ‘Christendom’ and ‘Christianity’ as imperfect results of earlier Christianizing processes. It pleads for a basically positive understanding of the term ‘Christendom’, stating that ‘Christendom’ produced the Christian calendar, nowadays known as the common era, and the Sunday as the most widely accepted free day in the world among others.

Nkomazana’s contribution examines the role played by the multi-faith religious education curriculum in basis and secondary schools in Botswana, and how hit impacts children’s values and moral standards irrespective of their religious, political and social orientations.

The article co-authored by Omenyo and Kwakye, titled ‘Authentically African and authentically Anglican’, examines the contextualization and the role of Ghanaian in the establishment of the Anglican Church took roots on Ghanaian soil and gained its own identity as a Ghanaian Church through the efforts of Ghanaians.

The second edition contains articles related to religions and public space. Kalu, who died in 2009, employs in his article on political violence in Africa the metaphor of the tangled mangrove roots in the Rivers State in his country Nigeria to put forward an argument on how identities are formed in Africa and to discuss the relevance of their framing through cults which are related to the types of political violence that are perpetuated in the Republics in Africa.

Asamoah-Gyadu’s article on Religion and Politics in Africa seeks to address the relationship between the religiosity and political development in Ghana, particularly as Ghana emerged out of colonialism and developed her religiousness in the post-independent era. He analyses the implications of the inseparability of religion from politics among Ghanaians.

Ammah’s article looks at women’s interfaith ventures in Ghana from a Muslim woman scholar’s point of view. She focuses on the Talitha Cumi Centre’s work through the circle of women theologians that employed an interfaith dialogue approach through women of all faiths including Muslim women as the way forward in transforming the African society by focusing on issues of feminism.

Ganusah’s paper examines the relationship between the Church and its developmental efforts in Africa. Ganusah argues that despite the negative image of the Church and its involvement in conflicts, it also played a positive role in nation building in terms of development. She therefore highlights the area for which the Church needs to be commended and to be encouraged to do more in Africa in improving the lot of its communities.

Butselaar examines the centrality of religion in the life of Africans against the background of Mozambique.

Atiemo’s article, which is the last in this section, uses a Ghanaian case study to analyse the relationship between tradition, religious human rights and the modern nation state in Africa. This work examines the prevalence of conflicts between traditional authorities and Christian groups and how human rights could be applied in religious circles.

Section C centres on religion and culture. Amenga-Etego’s article does a critique of the African traditional culture of chastity. The paper is interested in female sexuality in Africa. It uses the Nankani peoples of Northern Ghana to explore the traditional conception of chastity in the face of complex traditions and the challenges that change poses to it in contemporary times.

Weber’s article on biblical faith and culture argues that there is the need to re-examine the translations of the bible that were done in the past. Where necessary the bible ought to be retranslated to meet the demands of the times or to make it more relevant to the needs of its present readers.

Amanze’s article reviews the relationship between African Traditional Religion (ATR) and Christianity between the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries. He summarises the ‘push and pull’ relationship between ATR and Christianity as that of conflict and cooperation respectively. He notes the negative demonising attitude of the missionaries towards African culture and values in the beginnings of Christianity in most parts of Africa and the attempts that were made later to inculturate Christianity into Africa making it an African religion.

Sundermeier’s article, which follows Amanze’s, is an attempt at the inculturation of spirituality on the African context. It examines the concept of Spiritism and its implications for the inculturation of spirituality among African Christians.

The fourth section is titles Bible and Culture. Dube’s article focuses on reading the Bible with women leaders in African Instituted and mainline churches. This marks the paradigm shift from people on the academy reading the Bible exclusively among themselves to reading it with women who are leaders in their Churches who use the Bible in leading their churches and as basis for their leadership roles in their Churches but not academic interest in reading the Bible.

West picks up the issue of liberation hermeneutics which was developed during the apartheid era and examines its role in the post-apartheid era. West argues that there are new elements of subjugation that need to be dealt with in the post-apartheid era. He identified poverty, crime, corruption, unemployment and HIV/AIDS, which needs to be confronted with liberation hermeneutics in a renewed manner with the commitment of those in the academy cooperating a d working together with those in the deprived areas and less endowed areas of the South African communities.

Nsiah and Anum focus on an intertexture reading of Galatians 4:21-31 of the Sarah Hagar story and its application to the Ghanaian context. This article looks at the issues of freedom and justice as they interplay in the two contexts.

Finally Ekem picks up the mother tongue hermeneutical methodology which is popularised by the late Kwame Bediako. In his article he used the translation of the Apostle’s creed into the Mfantse by Jacobus Capitein and its relevance for the development of Mfantse understanding and appropriation of the creed among Christians whose mother tongue is that language. Ekem used this to illustrate how mother tongue biblical hermeneutics works.

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